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Jason Wilcox on the Blackburn Rovers revolution: Part two
PREM DE LA PREM: Rovers celebrate their victory over Leicester City to earn their place in the top flight again
IN part two of our four-part series looking back on Rovers’ rise to the Premier League, Jason Wilcox talks about the departure of Don Mackay, the arrival of Kenny Dalglish and the play-off victory at Wembley.
JASON Wilcox didn’t need a bird to poop on his new suit to suggest he was the subject of good fortune – the last few months should already have told him he had fallen upon the chance of a lifetime.
The Blackburn Rovers winger was forced to sit out the biggest moment of his early career in May 1992 through injury, as Mike Newell’s penalty gave Kenny Dalglish’s men a 1-0 play-off final victory over Leicester at Wembley and entry to the Premier League.
Wilcox was devastated to miss out, and his afternoon was not made any better by a stray bird pre-match, but all individual woes were quickly forgotten as a bright collective future seemed almost guaranteed at Ewood Park.
“That was my chance to play at Wembley,” he said. “As a kid you want to play at Wembley and there is no bigger occasion than the play-off final.
"So I walked out in my suit and a bird messed down it.
“We had these bright yellow suits and I had this red and green stuff all over my suit. I didn’t know whether it was good luck or bad luck, I guess it was good if you look at what followed.
“We took the change that was happening at the club for granted. A lot of us were kids and we just breezed through it.
"It is only now, looking back, you realise quite what a momentous thing you were part of.”
Just 12 months previous, a 21-year-old Wilcox was attempting to establish himself as a first team regular having been brought through the ranks at Ewood Park.
Now he was in the middle of a major footballing revolution.
Steel magnate Jack Walker had already bought a 62 per cent controlling share of the club in January 1991, and was even rumoured to have financed the signings of Ossie Ardiles and Steve Archibald some years earlier.
But it was his appointment of Dalglish as manager in October 1991 that really shaped what was to come as Blackburn Rovers were suddenly thrust into the big time.
Wilcox said: “There was a time when the rumours started filtering through.
"We heard someone had started to put money in and Don Mackay had just started to get these big name players.
“We got to a stage when Jack came in, he got rid of Don, who was a fantastic bloke, and almost straight away Kenny Dalglish came in. Then Ray Harford came in as well.
“Kenny was my idol at that time. I was a Liverpool fan as a kid and to know Kenny Dalglish was coming in was an unbelievable turnaround.
"The club was still small, we were still training at Pleasington.
“But Kenny came in and was completely down to earth. He had an aura about him that you were frightened to death of him, you wanted to please him, and you knew whatever you got from him would be beneficial.
“Ray Harford came in as well and I really warmed to him.
"He was just a fantastic person. He was very straight forward, a great coach and knew how to handle the players.
"It was almost as though it was good cop bad cop with those two.
“I remember the first sessions. We drove down from Ewood in our cars as there were no changing facilities at Pleasington.
"We had to stop as the funeral processions drove by as well. It was just completely alien to what he would have been used to.”
While Rovers were fighting a battle to win promotion into the top flight, Wilcox had his own personal fight to get over from the terraces with some supporters not quite taking to him.
“My style of play didn’t suit the vocal supporters,” he said.
“I think I had a real core of supporters who valued what I was doing but unfortunately the vocal ones, the ones who aren’t that clued up anyway, had a problem with me.
“It affected me massively. I was 19, very new to the man’s world and it affected me no danger. It was happening to me under Don Mackay.
“Eventually I turned the supporters around. It is like a vicious circle, I wasn’t playing well and the supporters got on my back but the reason I wasn’t playing well was because the supporters were getting on my back.
“Kenny kept playing me through it. No matter how I played he just kept playing me and that built me up as a person and stood me in good stead for the rest of my career.
"I reached a point where I sank or swam and I realised I had to rise above it.
“Somewhere in my mind I just became very arrogant on the pitch.
"If they started booing me, I clapped them. I just thought ‘sod you all’.
"I was doing it for myself and for the club, not to impress the vocal supporters who know the least.”
Promotion to the Premier League wasn’t gained the easy way as Rovers threw away a commanding lead at the top of the table to scrape into the play-offs in sixth position.
A two-legged win over Derby County saw them progress to the play-off final where Newell fired Rovers into the top flight via the penalty spot.
“We needed to go up,” said Wilcox. “I have no doubt we would have gone up the season after but we needed that to keep the momentum going. Then we got more and more players in.
“We had a celebration on the coach on the way back, met my wife, and we all celebrated together at the Woodlands.
"That summed Blackburn up, all together, supporters, players, it is what memories are made of.”
Following on from promotion, things gathered pace at an alarming speed off the field at Rovers as their Brockhall training centre was built and Ewood Park was redeveloped.
On it though, Dalglish’s men just grew from strength to strength as they went about shifting the balance of power in English football.
Wilcox added: “I just thought it was fantastic, we were winning games in the Premier League.
"The first season we finished fourth, unbelievable experience, and then we finished second, then the ground started to be demolished.
“Before the games we had to meet up 200 yards away from the pitch and get a minibus to the pitch.
“Everything was changing but we just carried on. I remember beating Manchester United 2-0 the season before we won the title.
"We battered them that day and from that day we knew we had them.”
Click on the links below for parts 1, 3 and 4 of the Jason Wilcox series.